With our world more complex than ever and a swarm of distractions just a swipe of a touch screen away, it is no wonder that children’s learning is suffering due to poor concentration and the other woes that modern technology can contribute to.
Of course, technology is also doing wonders for education and its increasing accessibility, but perhaps for solving dilemmas such as shrinking attention spans and dwindling focus, we need to look to a time when iEverythings simply weren’t there.
And so we find ourselves in ancient history, learning tips from ninjas, hide-and-seek and headstands!
And, let’s be honest, what kid doesn’t want to hone in on their ninja skills!
The Mind Palace Technique
In 477BC, a Greek poet named Simonides attended a banquet at which he was reciting. Stepping outside for just a moment, Simonides soon found himself to be the sole survivor of a tragic accident when the roof of the banquet hall collapsed just seconds later. Every other patron was crushed beyond recognition.
When asked if he could remember who was in attendance so that family members could be notified, Simonides stunned the authorities when he reconstructed the entire guest list by harnessing his visual and spatial memory to remember who was sitting at each place around the table.
This is called the mind palace technique, whereby things are commited to memory by where they are located.
The technique became very popular, but eventually fell out of favour with the invention of the printing press meaning that people no longer had to remember everything that they wanted to know. The Internet has made memory more redundant still.
However a good memory is one very important key to good academic performance. Luckily it is one that can still be taught today, and it can even be turned into a fun game!
Place 7-10 objects around the house. Have your child walk around, and as they locate each item, have them take a moment to commit its location to their memory, as well as the route through the house that they are taking. For example, I found an orange in the bathroom sink before walking into my sister’s bedroom and seeing a bucket on her bed.
Ask them to recall every item in the order that they found it by walking the same route around the house in their mind.
This technique can then be used without all the set-up. Show your child 10 pictures of objects instead and ask them to place each one along the same route in their minds. When asked to recall the items, they need only walk through the familiar setting in their head.
Used for thousands of years by ancient ninjas, trataka was a technique to improve concentration and observation skills.
Ninjas had an incredible ability to focus their attention on the task at hand, for if their concentration slipped, there was much more at stake than just a D+ on a maths test.
Trataka can be taught to children to help centre their focus, even when confronted with endless distractions.
Here’s how it works:
Have the child sit down comfortably with a straight spine. Two metres away, and at the child’s eye-level, place an object – any object. Commonly used in ninja training was a flickering candle. Ask the child to focus their attention solely on the object for 1-2 minutes. Then have them close their eyes and picture the object on the centre of their forehead for another minute.
This simple exercise alone can rejuvenate the mind and improve awareness.
Sarvangasana, or shoulder stand, is an ancient yoga pose that increases blood flow to the brain, therefore improving alertness and concentration for tasks to come.
Present it as a gymnastic challenge rather than a yoga pose (bor-ing!) and watch your child improve their ability to learn without them even knowing it!
Have your child lie flat on their back with their arms by their sides. Have them curl up their knees and feet to their chest and bend their arms at the elbows to support their waist with their hands. Slowly have them straighten their legs up into the air. Try to have them hold the pose for 20-30 seconds and then have them come out of the shoulder stand in reverse of they way they entered it.
Any of the three tips above can be practiced at home and, by putting digital devices to the side for just a few moments, can bring about a positive change in a child’s ability to be present and prepared to learn.
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